“I wasn’t very happy with the way I was playing. I was glad I won the match, but I was also disappointed in myself.”
The difference in skill between the two players was clear, but De Bruycker still struggled. She consistently hit the ball harder than Wilkins, especially on serves. But Wilkins moved quickly on the court and placed her shots well, which led to her three breaks of De Bruycker, including one with De Bruycker trying to serve out the set ahead 5-4.
And after some of the points she won, Wilkins did react, shouting and smacking herself in the leg.
De Bruycker loosened up in the second set, often yelling from exertion as she hit her shots, which she hadn’t done in the first set. But she still often looked frustrated when Wilkins’ shots found the sideline or the corner.
“(De Bruycker) plays much better when she feeds off the emotion from herself and her teammates in the crowd,” UNC coach Brian Kalbas said. “In the first set she was a little more nervous, and the girl was playing really well, which put her on the defense.
“Emotionally, she puts a lot of pressure on herself. I think it did wonders for her to win that first set.”
The UNC junior, who was an All-American last year and started this season ranked No. 6 in the country, jumped out to a 4-1 lead. But Wilkins got back on serve when she broke De Bruycker down 5-4, this time with De Bruycker serving for the match.
But De Bruycker held on. Barely.
With both players’ teammates and coaches looking on — their match was still going long after the rest had finished — De Bruycker broke Wilkins one last time to go up 6-5, then closed out the match on her serve.
De Bruycker also played Wilkins last year, winning a 6-4, 6-4 match that both she and Kalbas said was also close.
In Wednesday’s rematch, by the time Wilkins’ last shot bounced off the net and landed out, the match had lasted more than two hours.
During the final game, De Bruycker had been shouting on every point.
After the game-winner, she didn’t make a sound.
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